ENTRY FROM: 2019 Top Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Kimberly Hauge

It's a Journey - Wellness Their Way

My name is Kim Hauge and I am the wellness director for Kent State University, one of the largest public colleges in the state of Ohio. At Kent State University, you’ll find a diverse population of 5,600 faculty and staff alongside more than 40,000 students that hail from every corner of the globe. Although seemingly a mid-size/large employer spread across 8 campuses in northeast Ohio, with additional locations in New York City and Florence, Italy, our blue and gold family presents a very “small-town” feel with the vast majority of faculty/staff and students located in Kent, Ohio.
I myself hold a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education from Kent State. That journey was hard, long, and challenging as I earned my degrees while raising 2 small children and working full-time for most of those years. A couple corporate transfers with my husband’s career were thrown in there, for good measure, to make the journey a bit more rigorous, but we prevailed together. I wouldn’t change one day for the pride I had for myself, the role model I have been to my children, and the pride my parents had when their youngest of 6 became a “college graduate.” I am currently seeking a second master’s degree in public health to help foster my growth in health promotion.
I have had an untraditional journey to corporate wellness. In the early days of my career, I worked for a large insurance company starting out in clerical work, that’s what many of us women did in the early 80’s, and eventually worked my way into the property/casualty side of the business handling personal injury claims. The journey led to a career opportunity with a smaller carrier leading a claims department that handled health, disability and death claims. I did enjoy the caring community that this smaller employer had. However, a corporate move for my husband required our family to relocate to another state. As devastating as this move appeared at the time, it opened the door to unforeseen opportunities, including pursuing that college degree, that often aspired to have. Here I was, in a strange state, no friends, no family, a wife and mother, and starting college in my late twenties. The beginning of a 9-year journey that started in Syracuse, NY and concluded with my first Bachelor’s in Education, Cum Laude, in May, 2002 and a Master’s in Education in May, 2010.
From 1995 to 2007, after a 2nd relocation, I turned that insurance experience I had into a job opportunity in Employee Benefits at Kent State University. This is when I introduced the first wellness program to Kent State in 2004 as I quite never understood why we were trying to outdo healthcare spend AFTER the fact. Wouldn’t it make sense to do things that promoted health and wellbeing and then you might not have to spend the money on “healthcare.” Well, I convinced my VP that this was a good move. I spoke to every vendor and/or person I knew on campus and asked, “who’s in”? Thus we started to grow One WellU on a shoestring budget. I know, some things never change in that respect.
After leaving the university in 2007 to pursue teaching students with special needs, the wellness program struggled and went dormant, for the most part. After teaching for some years, I returned to Kent State in 2013 and took over the wellness initiative in its entirety in the fall of 2015.
I am very proud of our accomplishments and ability to stay focused on developing a comprehensive, value-added program that respects the individuality and wellness journey of each individual employee. We have received recognition on several fronts despite being a fairly new program. Some of the awards include:
- 2016 Recipient of American Heart Association’s Fit-Friendly Workplace (Gold)
- 2016 Recipient of American Heart Association’s Innovators Award
- 2017 Recipient of American Heart Association’s Workplace Health Achievement Award
- 2016 Top 50 - WELCOA Most Active Companies
- 2017 Implemented Smoke-Free, Tobacco Free Policy for Kent State University
- 2017 Top 25 - WELCOA Most Active Companies
- 2017 1st Place – WELCOA University Challenge (Kent State and Plymouth State collaborated with WELCOA to develop this initiative for universities/colleges)
- 2018 Top 10 – WELCOA Most Active Companies
- 2018 Recipient of American Heart Association’s Workplace Health Achievement Award

Kim Hauge, Director, Employee Wellness

Professional Development and Leadership

Since returning to workplace wellness, I have immersed myself to be an effective leader in health promotion. This includes returning to formal education through our College of Public Health at Kent State, becoming certified as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and as a certified professional by the Society for Human Resource Management with the SHRM-CP. I, of course, immersed myself in the best practices and continued professional development offered by WELCOA, earning faculty status. I have also gone through the rigorous certification to become a Certified Wellness Practitioner (CWP) from the National Wellness Institute. I have achieved additional certifications and training from Dr. Joel Bennett, National Wellness Institute, on resilience. I have also attended Dr. Brian Luke Seaward’s multi-day training on Holistic Stress Management in Colorado. I have just completed certification in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at Kent State. I continually read research, articles, attend webinars and network with others passionate about health promotion and workplace wellness.  The training, networking, speaking, engaging and continuous learning must be a commitment in this field as we are constantly learning about the effects of culture and environment, two things that are ever-changing, and its implications on overall health. 

I believe what draws me into this field is a passion and understanding that we must meet people where they are. We must seek to give a hand up, not necessarily the hand out.  When I shared my story of returning to school as an adult, I was filled with doubt. There were several key factors that I can reflect on that fueled my passion to get a degree. Here are just a few:

An appreciation for what society and workplaces placed on higher education. The challenges and roadblocks that would be before me if I were a professional woman without a formal degree.
Coming to the realization that a part of me felt cheated by those that had opportunity and knowledge of career choices, or other choices, that didn’t see me “worthy enough” to educate me on those options. 
I became a young mother/a teen mom. But that was no reason to write me off. I still had dreams for myself and my family.
My youngest child, my daughter, was identified with a learning disability in grade school. You can be brilliant and have a learning disability. Many don’t realize that. I didn’t want others to write her off.  I needed to be her strongest advocate. I would be her strongest advocate. I went back to college to get a degree in special education so I could be part of her support system. We were going to journey this together and she will know success.

I said my journey was complicated. It was, but it was also very successful with moments of triumph and exhaustion, happiness, and tears. This, I feel, makes me keenly appreciative of everyone’s unique journey. Of their abilities, struggles, perceived barriers, and success stories of their own that they have yet to create. 

When my family and I were relocated to New York and I was about to start college, I had every emotion running through my body. But I also had purpose that motivated me. To prove that I was worthy of a college education AND to obtain the added knowledge that would help me help my child. Recall, that I referenced earlier, I don’t ever recall a teacher/counselor inspiring me to be all I could be.  That was about to change on May 31, 1992, when I started College Learning Strategies with Patricia K. Waelder.  Yes, I know the date, class and her name because I have held onto every piece of paper from that class. These are some of her first comments back to me on my first writing assignments:

 “Remember, you have not been in a “cocoon” for the past 9 years. All your work and personal life experience make a contribution to what you bring to this new College life. All you need to do is to “translate” these strengths into an academic setting.”

“Kim – I sense you are on the threshold of a whole new world. Your enthusiasm is contagious. You will be a great success. You have all the basic skills well under control. You write well also.”

So, Ms. Waelder was instrumental in creating a safe environment for me to take the risk to put myself out there.  I seized that opportunity and moved myself forward emotionally and academically. I was so proud to be part of that world, partially because she was in it!  I have never forgotten her encouragement and the difference SHE made in my life. She changed me. I have taken that gift that she gave me and share it with others in my work so that they too can take that risk. They’ll stumble. They may fall. They may need a “hand up”, but they do not need to be judged. This is what I try to teach others and do and convey in my role as an employee wellness director. Trust, empathy, understanding, and appreciation for how messy life can be. But it can still be a good life with all its messiness.

These are important attributes to have. As a leader in the field you need to know this is hard work and individuals’ sense whether you are genuine and authentic in your appreciation for them. This is a very personal area of their life you are asking them to share with the organization if you are in workplace wellness. It’s a vulnerable state and one that requires a significant amount of trust, also known as psychological safety.  In my own example of shifting gears so abruptly, had Ms. Waelder not created such a safe environment for me to explore, I could have easily withdrawn from class and school and returned home. Who would fault me? Who would say a word to me if I left? She created an environment for which I was willing to take a risk in. To take steps forward and move myself emotionally and otherwise. To go after my dreams and vision. We ALL have dreams. So, above all, be authentic, be trustworthy, be kind, and understand that everyone has a story. This would be my advice to an aspiring “leader in the field.”

Success Stories and Innovation

We have been very fortunate that our employees have responded with great enthusiasm and that is no accident. It comes from these life and professional experiences shared in “my story.” I was sure to do my “homework” in making sure we brought programming to bare that were indicative of their needs, wants, and what our data was telling us. We have been strategic, authentic, laser focused on creating a caring and accepting culture and I have used every ounce of knowledge gained from studying best practices and determining our “Kent State” fit.  

I have become highly sensitive and committed to insuring that we have open dialogue and resources around mental health and psychological safety in the workplace.  One of the areas I have been invited to speak on regularly is how to breakdown stigma around mental health in the workplace. We chose to tackle depression first as we knew it was an area of major concern within our population. Our claims, pharmaceutical, and FMLA data was part of that identification.  Like most employers, we struggled with the best strategy to start the conversation.  At the same time, we were looking to address depression in the workplace, Right Direction, a first of its kind depression awareness campaign, was being developed. The employer resources are completely free, a good thing when you are a small operation in a public institution. We explored this with our Employers Health coalition, as they were one of the co-developers for Right Direction. We decided to move forward with an aggressive communication and education campaign for leadership and employees. The leadership track helped supervisors/leaders to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, encourage empathy when speaking with employees that may be displaying uncharacteristic performance issues, and serve as a resource for how employees could receive assistance, such as through our EAP. Likewise, our employee track, also discussed signs and symptoms, importance of self-care, early intervention, recovery, and EAP resources.

We spend a lot of time in the space of building resiliency skills and mindful practices, including Mindful Based Stress Management (MBSR) training.

Because of our vigilance and commitment to promoting mental health as part of our holistic wellness programming, the American Psychological Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health has been collaborating to analyze 5 years of medical, pharmaceutical, EAP, FMLA, and Workers’ Comp data to look into the effects of our interventions around mental health.  I will be sharing these findings at the Employers Healthcare Congress in Washington, D.C. on April 30, 2019. We have shared some of our earlier results by presenting for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), provided a briefing to legislators on Capitol Hill with the  Health Leadership Council, and at other conferences , such as the National Alliance on Health, and the HR Executive Health & Benefits Leadership Conference held in Las Vegas. I have also served as a panelist for SAMHSA/HHS Emotional Wellness & Mental Health in the Workplace and served as part of the team that developed a Mentally Healthy Workplaces Best Practices Guide for employers.

We are able to measure our health improvements through several mechanisms, and I’ll highlight a couple herein:

Since 2015, we have been initiating an annual perception survey provided by WELCOA. This measures specifically the employee’s perception of whether or not they perceive that their employer cares about their wellbeing and supports a culture of wellbeing. For each consecutive year, we have increased all measurements on the Likert scale in every category year over year and the number of participants taking the survey has increased each year as well. 
2)     About our mental health in the workplace initiative, our 5-year data analysis being completed by the Center of Workplace Mental Health, has shown the following to date.

Stigma has decreased in the post-intervention period
Management referrals due to workplace issues has decreased in the post-intervention period
Employee self-referring to the EAP has increased in the post-intervention period
From 2015 to 2018, utilization of the EAP has gone from 13.52% overall to 60.1%. Beginning Jan. 1 – present we included mental health more holistically in the ongoing programming
Employees are utilizing the EAP for the top conditions of MH, financial concerns, legal, and family issues.
Increase in diagnosis for depression but no increase in hospital admits – post intervention.
Numbers have increased for both antidepressants/anxiolytics in the post-intervention period. Consistent with increase in diagnosis.

More measurements are currently being analyzed as far as changes in healthcare spend.

Using our data to drive decision making, some of the initiatives that have had a substantial impact on behavior center around the topics of mindfulness, stress management, nutrition, and sleep.  This past fall, and to help engage more faculty, I pulled together faculty that specialize in these areas to create a fall speaker series called, The Science of Healthy.  The faculty/staff speaker series would cover, in 3 session, happiness and sleep, brain health and exercise, and the science of healthy eating. Employees had the option of participating in the room where the presentation was being made, but we also live-streamed the sessions to eliminate barriers to geographical location.  This series was very popular and continued to open minds to how much control individuals themselves have over building resiliency and being more present in the world around them. 

Most recently we took these areas of interest and ran a 2-part series solely on resiliency and just completed a 3-part series on Attentional Fitness – creating focus, recharge and empathy through mindfulness.  We had nearly 400 participants in EACH session.  Our employees are now engaging in formalized mindfulness practice on their own as well as sessions that are provided during the lunch times across most campuses.

One thing I do need to point out here is the fact that we have truly engaged and incorporated our EAP into our vision of wellbeing for all. Our employees, obviously apparent by our engagement numbers shared earlier, see the EAP as a true resource and extension of “us.”  They talk about the EAP and all the wonderful services they bring to bear. They refer themselves and openly suggest “their” EAP as a source to colleagues. It is so very refreshing to hear and witness this level of openness around the topics of mental health disorders, or other real-life issues that affect many of us. They are acquiring the internal knowledge to call upon the resources they need when they need them. This is evident in our EAP metrics and other utilization reports we review regularly. They are proactively engaging in their wellbeing. No arm twisting, no punitive actions, just authentic caring for themselves and those around them. 

When it comes to our collaborations and partners that we invite into our Kent State family, we want them to know, appreciate, and authentically care about their wellbeing. They are truly an extension of us and I am so very proud to say we have that mutual respect with our EAP and any others we choose to partner with. We are in sync and that’s part of our success story.


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Kim Hauge, Director, Employee Wellness
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Comments 22

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Thanks Kim for all your work on the Wellness program. Every month you think of wonderful ideas for getting everyone active. Loved the Art Walks this month! Mary Beth

Mary R. on 5/28/2019

Thank you, Kim, for all your hard work and efforts in making Kent State University a healthier campus. Claudia M.

Claudia M. on 5/28/2019

Kim You are so inspiring and motivating!!! Thank you for being everything we needed in promoting wellness on the Kent State Campus!!! You are so special to me!

Veronica C. on 5/28/2019

Thank you Kimberly for all you do with the wellness program here at KSU campus!

Tuyet P. on 5/28/2019

Kim's passion for wellness on this KSU campus is what helps us to succeed . Thank you for caring as much as you do for the wellness community here and for all the creative ideas you come up for us to enjoy!

Carmen G. on 5/22/2019

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